You may be familiar with the Mayflower’s turbulent journey across the Atlantic, its landing off course, and the harrowing winter that followed—but did you know about the famous love story of Mayflower passengers John Alden and Priscilla Mullin?
Although we can’t know for sure if the story of John Alden, Priscilla Mullin, and Myles Standish was Plymouth’s first love triangle, we do know that it is the first Mayflower love story to be forever immortalized by a narrative poem—by the Aldens’ own descendant!
Who Were John Alden, Priscilla Mullin, and Myles Standish?
John Alden sailed on the historic Mayflower voyage in 1620 as a crew member. He was hired to make the trip as the ship’s cooper, or barrel maker. Myles Standish was also hired to join the voyage, but for his military experience. When the ship returned to England, however, both Myles and John decided to stay in Plymouth Colony rather than return home.
Priscilla Mullins originally made the voyage with her father, stepmother, and brother. When tragedy struck Plymouth during the first winter, Priscilla lost her entire family she had traveled with.
Despite her loss, John Alden and Priscilla Mullins became one of the first couples to get married in the new colony. According to oral history, John Alden and Myles Standish were romantic rivals, which became the inspiration for the famous poem The Courtship of Miles Standish.
The Courtship of Miles Standish
John and Priscilla Alden’s love story was popularized by The Courtship of Miles Standish, a narrative poem published by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John and Priscilla Alden’s descendant, in 1858. The book spread like wildfire in both the United States and the United Kingdom.
In the book, Myles fancied Priscilla but was too shy to tell her, so he asked John Alden to relay the message. When John told Priscilla of Myles’s feelings, it instead sparked a romantic relationship between John and Priscilla.
“Speak for Yourself, John”
“Speak for Yourself, John,” is one of the most quoted lines from The Courtship of Miles Standish. When John Alden relayed Myles Standish’s feelings for Priscilla, Priscilla famously replied, “Why don’t you speak for yourself, John?” In the poem, her reply leads to their courtship.
Is The Courtship of Miles Standish True?
While Longfellow took the idea from Timothy Alden’s A Collection of American Epitaphs and Inscriptions, there is little historical evidence to support the tale. It is difficult to say if Timothy Alden’s account is accurate since it was recorded almost two centuries after the fact. Even if it were accurate, Longfellow fictionalized the story to write The Courtship of Miles Standish.
The book’s fame played an important role in making the Mayflower pilgrims’ story a prominent part of American culture. Its fame even helped the pilgrims’ Thanksgiving celebration become a national holiday in 1863.
John Alden and Priscilla Mullin’s Legacy
Though the story of their courtship is questionable, we do know quite a bit about other aspects of John Alden’s and Priscilla Mullin’s lives and legacy.
John Alden played an active role in Plymouth Colony. He was one of the first signatories of the Mayflower Compact, and he served in several government positions, including treasurer, court deputy, governor’s assistant, and member of the council of war.
John’s skills as a carpenter and barrel maker also helped the colony survive its early years as the pilgrims built homes and meetinghouses. In the 1623 division of land among the colonists, John and Priscilla received four acres on the north side of Plymouth Colony on the first street at the base of Burial Hill. They built a small home there.
In 1626 an agreement was made between the Merchant Adventurers Company in England, which had financed Plymouth Colony, and members of the colony. Eight men, including John Alden, undertook the debt in exchange for boats, furs, and other items that belonged to the company. The agreement also gave them the right to trade for themselves for six years.
Later, John and Priscilla received 100 acres in Duxbury. The property was accessible by water from the bay and the river. The west end of the farm ran along the Green Harbor path between Plymouth and Marshfield.
In 1628, they built a home and farm on the property. For several years, the family traveled 10 miles to Sunday church services in Plymouth. The trip was a long and hard one. Eventually, the colonists petitioned to start another congregation in Duxbury, leading it to become a separate town in 1637. The couple also served as prominent and founding members of Duxbury.
When Did John Alden Die?
John Alden was the last surviving signatory of the Mayflower Compact. He died on September 12, 1687, and was buried in the Myles Standish Burial Ground of Duxbury, Massachusetts.
When Did Priscilla Alden Die?
It is uncertain when exactly Priscilla Alden died. She stops appearing in records in 1650, but oral histories put her death just years before John’s death. It is possible she died between 1650 and 1687.
Priscilla Alden is buried in the Myles Standish Burial Ground alongside her husband, John Alden. While the original location of their graves is unknown, commemorative stones were later placed near the headstone of their son Captain Johnathan Alden.
John and Priscilla Alden’s Family Tree
Many people can trace their ancestry back to John and Priscilla Alden, who had 10 children together. It is estimated that John and Priscilla have more descendants than any of the other Mayflower passengers.
Are you a descendant of John and Priscilla Alden? Find out on FamilySearch.org. If you’re connected to Family Tree, sign in to your FamilySearch account and then click View My Relationship on either John’s page or Priscilla’s page to see if you’re related.